Checking off #1 on the Bucket List

About 10 years ago I saw a picture of Machu Picchu online. It looked like nothing I had ever seen – the ruins of a ancient city nestled among (and built on top) of the mountains. I put it on my bucket list.

When I booked my Inca Trail Trek 6 months ago, I hadn´t really planned on doing a 3 month adventure. I had not booked any flights  or really thought about what else I would do on the trip. Actually, at the time I thought I would only do 3 weeks in Peru. But it was the spark that got things going. Once I paid my deposit, I was going to South America – FOR SURE.

I was nervous, anxious and excited to start the trek. The inca trail follows what is believed to have been a spiritual pilgrimage for selected people during the times of the Inca (roughly around 1400-1550). While I started at Kilometre 88 of the railway system, the actual Incans at KM 0 in Cuzco. I was happy to skip those first 88 km for sure! 42 km was enough for me.

Here is my group at the start of the trail. Only 500 people a day are allowed to enter the trail (200 Trekkers and 300 guides and porters). We were with the PeruTreks company.

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We were an eclectic mix comprised of 3 Canadians, 1 American, 2 Kiwis, 2 Russians, and 5 Australians. Our guides were Percy and Darwin – both Quechuans from Peru.

The first day was labelled as “easy” although there were still some decent hills along the 11km track. The porters flew past us constantly despite carrying bags that looked bigger than their bodies.

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One of the best parts of the trek was our food. We had a 3 course meal at every lunch and dinner – arguably some of the best food I have had my whole trip! They definitely kept a our bodies fuelled!

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Camp on the first night was in a beautiful spit overlooking the valley we had just walked. It was nice to take off my shoes and wash down a little bit.

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The next morning we prepared for “challenge day” which definitely lived up to its name. Here is a picture of my guide, Percy, pointing at the map of where were. We had to go beyond the high pass.

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I dont know why he looked so happy about it because we essentially we walked up, up, up for hours. I hiked with another Canadian named Sue as we happily took our time (and lots of breaks). The trick was taking 100 steps at a time, though as it got steeper we gradually lessened our step goal.

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After gaining 1100m in elevation to finally reach the highest point of the trail at “dead woman’s pass”, I celebrated with a chocolate bar (sadly I didn´t take a picture of me and my chocolate… I was too excited to eat it)! But here is a view from the top!

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The next two hours were the opposite – dropping down giant stairs to get to our campsite. In this next picture, can you see the tiny dot of colour at the bottom of the valley? That was our destination.

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Needless to say I was happy to lie down in my tent when we finally made it there.

We were up bright and early again on day 3 for “unforgettable day”. We summited another (smaller) mountain and did a little Quechua ceremony for prosperity at the top of the pass using river stones, coca leaves and alcohol. You had 3 stones to wish for yourself, a loved one and your community. I snuck on a fourth stone for a professor and mentor of mine from university. He passed away suddenly just a couple days before the trek and I had been thinking about him along the way.

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The rest of the day was beautiful, even with some heavy fog and then rain moving in. The path levelled out more or less (or was varied enough to make it feel that way) and we stopped in at some interesting ruins (and I made a new Llama friend!).

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This spot was supposed to reveal an amazing lookout… unfortunately, we wouldn´t see a thing! At least I had a fashionable poncho, right?

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We went through a couple tunnels and we made our way down into the cloud forest ecosystem.

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When the clouds cleared I could see outlines of mountains all around.

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The most impressive part of this leg was how the porters just RAN past us on the staircases leading down. I have no idea what makes them sure-footed but I never once saw any of them misstep or stumble. Incredible!!!

I opted to skip the last set of ruins to walk solo (and sllooooooowly) down a different path instead. I stopped to look at all the smaller details.

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Back at camp we had yet another delicious meal and we gathered with the porters and cook to say thank you for all their efforts. They are basically superhuman for what they are able to do.

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And our cook made us a CAKE!

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We hit the sack early that night in preparation for our 3:30am wake up call.

We packed up in thx dark, moving quickly so as to be at the front of the line to move through the control gate quickly when it opens at 5:30am. We are there by 4 – making us the 5th group in line! Awesome. We were ready to go!

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We past through the control and I was so ready for this last 5km. I somehow ended up leading the slower half of my group but my pace was not slow at all this day. I refused to wait for anyone… I even passed 2 groups! I think we were all digging deep because if only took us 45 minutes to make it to the infamous “sun gate”. We finally got our first view of Machu Picchu!

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We celebrated with high fives (and another chocolate bar), took lots of pictures, and then started the descent to the ruins.

Essentially – the pictures are incredible, but the real thing is absolutely SURREAL. We took many photos, but my favourite is my jumpshot, of course! Not just because it is a jump, but because apparently you aren´t allowed to do jump shots at Machu Picchu. Some fun-ruiner decided it might destroy the rocks and ruins. So when I took this shot, I didn´t know the rules. Some guard came over and forced me to delete it (and thus, breaking my heart). Thankfully I had recently updated my iPod — there is a RECENTLY DELETED FOLDER!! I rescued my photo and was the happiest person you ever met.

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Anyway – we had to go check in at the main gate, and I had to say goodbye to my walking sticks. They literally saved my knees on this trip.

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Here are some photos of the ruins… so incredible that they were able to build this all on top of a mountain.

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Thre was some pretty impressive technology like this water fountain that trickles down the hill.

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Ongoing construction and restoration efforts to keep the place looking great!

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And the classic postcard shot!

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After wandering around the ruins getting sunburnt, it was time to head back into town. We got our passports stamped and then took a bus down into the valley and then had a final lunch together in Aguas Calientes.

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We recieved our certificates (yay!) and then hung around until catching the train and bus back to Cuzco.

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What an adventure!!!! So glad I was able to finally do this trek and happy to tick it off on my bucket list!!! Now I need a new #1….

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